The Interconnected Community is the Real Backbone of Open Source

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Every company that uses technology today is using open source in some way or the other. Open source is accelerating software as well as hardware development around the world. What is running this entire show is the interconnected open source community. How is this community paving the way for a new era of open source in India? How are businesses growing with its help? Read on to find out.

Technology has become the forerunner in every industry today. Everything we see today is powered by innovation that took place a couple of decades ago, which may not be very obvious though. Open source is all around us, much like the Universe. Almost every piece of software in this world is being powered by open source, which makes it so significant today.

However, open source is not a one-stop-shop that can work on its own. It is the community powering it that has propelled open source to such global significance that organisations all over the world are recognising it.

What it means to be interconnected
Open source, by itself, is a very broad term that comprises every element that contributes to it. At the bottom of it, it is code that people are writing, collaborating on and sharing, which is powering everything that we see around us.

There is no single developer sitting in his or her room or office writing this code. Open source is a team sport. Someone in Bengaluru is collaborating with someone in Brisbane to write that piece of code. This is what the interconnected community is doing — it is working together to better a code, and this is what keeps open source going.

The interconnected community – going above and beyond
The Ingenuity helicopter that has been sent on a mission to Mars by NASA is a great example of how the interconnected community is contributing to larger-than-life projects. The software, code and libraries used in this helicopter have been written by hundreds of open source developers over the years who had no knowledge that they were contributing to such a project.

These developers may have just been writing a login module or creating a telemetry function that they open sourced, which has then been put together in the software that powered Ingenuity and created what may well be a breakthrough for humankind. This is just one example of how open source is enabling human progress.


India and the interconnected community

We are aware of the immense talent that resides in India, which makes it no surprise that it is the largest developer market. To put things in perspective, there are over 7 million developers from India who call GitHub their home. These developers have not only collaborated with other developers from all over the globe but have also contributed to immense growth in the past 12-18 months. In India, open source and the developer ecosystem is in a perfect symbiotic relationship.

As the awareness among developers grows, more and more youngsters are beginning to contribute to open source. They are steadily building the community with their new age ideas, which is shaping the open source ecosystem.

Indians have been at the forefront of contributing to well-loved open source projects like Apache, TensorFlow, React or even Kubernetes. But a new driver is accelerating the growth of the Indian open source community– the emergence of projects like MOSIP, Bagisto, ERPNext and Chatwoot, which have their origin in India and have now gone on to become globally beloved open source programs. Developers from around the world are working on these projects, helping to add more functionality, figuring out and fixing bugs, and improving them for use by governments, consumers and enterprises across the world.

This highlights how Indian developers are solving problems in the local context, which is impacting the larger picture and providing solutions to similar problems that exist elsewhere.

Propelling the startup ecosystem
The open source ecosystem in India is extremely vibrant today, and this is helping to build the tech community and complementing the startup boom that the country is currently experiencing. Startups, and SaaS (software as a service) in particular, today rely heavily on the open source model, and this is because the young founders running them are aware of how they can leverage open source.

This, in turn, is helping new talent coming out from Indian institutions that is building the code for the core functions of these startups. These companies are now going on to become global giants, all thanks to the vibrant open source and community ecosystem powering the Digital India vision.

Yet, the greatest thing about all of this is how rapidly the community in India is growing. Nearly 2 million Indian contributors have joined the open source community in GitHub and created their first repository, collaborated with others and are on their way to build products that rely on such code. This is proof that the open source community in India is here to stay and nurture the growth of product development in the country.

All of this, though, is not happening behind-the-scenes. People have started taking note of the impact that open source has, which has sparked the interest of venture capitalists, particularly in India. The recent acquisition of a product company like Red Hat indicates that there is a good opportunity to scale an open source business, which is encouraging for future startups.

In the past, investors claimed that open source had very limited growth opportunity. But this has changed in the past five years, with more and more VCs being open to investing in startups that rely on the open source business model. This has given the community in India an impetus to keep contributing to open source so that more businesses can leverage it.

The Red Hat acquisition also highlights how one can build a successful business based on open source which, in this case, was to take an open source product and build a service and support model on top of it. Apart from building revenue, open source also enables real economies of scale. So when an organisation or startup builds a project, a small core member team lays the foundation stone, while the rest of the community does the crux of the work and tries to better it.

For instance, developers in Germany may want code that was built in India. And they may want to localise it because that is the only way it could be used at their front-end. With this, you suddenly have German support and the functionality of your product has expanded without any further investment in resources. Across the globe, there are suddenly 5,000 customers who are now using your product. This interconnectedness is what is helping open source businesses become viable and lucrative investment opportunities for VCs.

Powering the interconnected community in India
Just like Indian developers are nurturing the open source community at large, it is important to provide avenues for growth for newer, younger talent to learn how to tap into their skills. GitHub has taken a few steps in that direction.

GitHub Grants for Open Source: This programme was launched by GitHub to help support projects in India, since working long-term on a particular project can be an expensive affair. GitHub Grants for Open Source commits Rs 10 million (Rs 1 crore) to support and fund open source maintainers and contributors, as they build open source software that impacts India and the world.

GitHub Accelerate: This programme aims to support startups in their technological growth by providing access to GitHub’s enterprise products. The programme is currently open to startups that are a part of a select partner network consisting of accelerators, incubators and venture funds. Large organisations that have built their business model around open source or rely on it can now share their experiences with up and coming startups, and also get their engineering teams to share their strategies on scalability and security. This will help new startups learn from the best in the game.

GitHub Externship: The GitHub Externship programme provides students with a unique opportunity to engage with companies in India, via fellowship programmes. It helps them build the right skills future developers need, including open source skills, to succeed in an enterprise environment. It guides them on what it means to be part of the open source ecosystem, what the different licensing mechanisms in open source are, when to use them, and so on. Third-year students work on enterprise open source projects, which is a win-win situation since student developers get exposure to real world challenges and the industry gets some cool coding talent.


Paving the way

India has the fastest growing open source contribution on GitHub globally and that speaks a lot about how the whole ecosystem is changing. Most importantly, the interconnected community is the real propeller of the open source wave that is taking over the world. You might be working to solve a really small problem now, but you have no idea how and where that will be picked up. Sharing your code and engaging the community to work on it to make it better is one of the greatest advantages of embracing open source, as it will open the way for how to get the most out of it.

Transcribed and curated by: Siddha Dhar

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